When I reviewed We Bought a Zoo
, the film had been severely criticised because it made running a zoo look like a healthy recreational activity for bored American families. The critique was exacerbated by a real-life tragedy when a zoo-owner from Ohio shot himself after setting loose his collection of lions, tigers, bears and other beasts. To the horror of the public, the police proceeded to shoot each and every exotic pet.
Far be it from me to suggest that unnecessary comedies pile up enough bad karma during production to set off some event that seriously challenges their promotion – only The Watch is apparently another example. Originally slated to be entitled Neighborhood Watch, 20th Century Fox opted to pull the posters and re-title the film when, in February, an American teenager was shot to death by a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator − so much for karmic coincidences.
It probably wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe The Watch as a joke fest conceived in the imagination of a comic-reading, sex-starved adolescent boy who has just discovered beer.
Complete with a plot that hardly holds up under scrutiny, it is a banquet of mass-market American slapstick with an emphasis on male bonding, juvenile attitudes to sex, nitwit non sequiturs and sardonic violence. There are orgies and aliens, beer and peeing (in a clear hat-tip to the cop scene in Dumb & Dumber), neon green slime and guns. There is also an obsession with male genitals. Disturbingly enough, it forms a kind of sub-theme with some bearing on the plot. But not to worry, I’ll get to this flick’s potentially redeeming elements in due course.
Evan Troutwig (Stiller), the grounded and community-orientated manager of a Costco in Glenview, Ohio, decides to take action when his night watchman is found killed and, even more disturbingly, skinned and covered in green slime. The local cop (Will Forte from Saturday Night Live) ignores the hair-raising details and gets nowhere, which compels ‘the Evanator’ to recruit what turns out to be three absolutely worthless boneheads in the shape of Vaughn (Wedding Crashers), Hill (Moneyball) and Ayoade (The IT Crowd). Unfit for sleuthing and vigilante work, what this pathetic crew are really looking for is male company: Hill’s rather hilarious character is still living with his mom while Ayoade needs a wingman as much as he does an Asian milf. Naturally, the road to discovering the murderer’s true and extra-terrestrial identity is paved with a lot of jackass stunts, awkward bromance moments, situational misfires and the like. There are a few almost-scary and quite steamy scenes, too.
Working from a script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad and The Pineapple Express), it is directed by Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) whom you may also know as a writer for Saturday Night Live. To their credit, they were saddled with Shawn Levy who wrote the nauseatingly Disney-esque comedy Mr Popper’s Penguins, as a co-writer, so it’s not a surprise it ended up a Farrelly Brothers-like cross between Ghostbusters with aliens and Attack the Block, a 2011 British film about a group of teenagers who decide to strike back when their city is on the receiving end of an interplanetary invasion.
The bottom line is that although it’s pretty much all formula, you do laugh – and more than a few times. There is something about Stiller’s deadpan delivery that (miraculously) still works, and something about the jokes that, if you’re in that mood, makes for perfectly acceptable entertainment. Taking its dude-ensemble cues from the comparable Horrible Bosses, this plethora of cookie-cutter gags has absolutely no substance – but funny is not necessarily about substance. It’s about letting go as well.
The Watch (15)
Dir: Akiva Schaffer;
US comedy, 2012, 102 mins;
Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemary DeWitt
Premieres: August 23